Pursuing Jerry

A former prosecutor finds it was easier to investigate ethically challenged officials than to run against one

A red-eyed sun peeks over the pines of the self-proclaimed "Livable Forest" of Kingwood at 6:30 a.m., finding county commissioner candidate Jim Lindeman assiduously working a line of potential voters as they pile into Metro park-and-ride buses for the 35-minute commute to downtown.

Lindeman wears the businessman's armor of well-tailored dark suit and black dress shoes, and looks as if he's about to jump on board to join the caravan of nine-to-fivers south to their daytime duties. After introducing himself by name and the position he's seeking, Lindeman usually adds, "and I've worked in the district attorney's office for 12 years." In an age when voters supposedly hate "politicians," running for office requires the sleight-of-hand talents of a David Copperfield. The not-so-simple trick is to seek a political position without appearing to be political. For this role the tall and boyishly 40 Lindeman is a natural. Not only did he prosecute criminals as an assistant district attorney, he busted politicians, too.

In fact, Lindeman is one of the few people in Harris County who can tell you from personal experience which is easier: running against an ethically challenged public official or investigating and prosecuting one. Lindeman was part of the team in District Attorney Johnny Holmes' office that probed City Councilman Ben Reyes for theft and campaign fund infractions and eventually settled for probated misdemeanors. He's running against Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, a Republican who's been indicted by a grand jury for campaign spending violations. The arena of combat is a sprawling county commissioner precinct, larger than two Texas congressional districts, that sits like a cap across the top of Harris County, with one southern finger running through Garden Oaks to take in the silk stockings of River Oaks. Candidate Lindeman admits he misses the tools prosecutor Lindeman had for his tasks.

"In prosecuting, you have grand jury subpoenas, search warrants, tools that are really designed to help you ferret out the truth," he muses. "You have a waiting audience -- the grand jury -- and if it agrees and indicts you've got a jury and then press conferences. Expectations are higher, like being on a high wire without a net."

Running against Eversole is a very different assignment. Media coverage is scant. Lindeman can't subpoena his unwilling opponent to show up for a debate. The only jury that counts, the expected 150,000 voters in the precinct, requires big media bucks to reach. His own hyper-clean resume and his opponent's legal problems are the candidate's biggest assets. While Lindeman stresses issues like poor police protection and Eversole's wasteful spending on staff and office facilities, ethics is his ticket to ride.

"I'm not spending my time telling every one that I see that Jerry Eversole spent his campaign funds on golf or what I consider personal expenditures," Lindeman says during a lull in the commuter surges to the bus stop. "I've got so many other things to tell them about county government and other ethical problems that I don't have to refer to it directly.... But the law is there for a purpose. If campaign funds can be used for personal items like cars and jewelry for your wife, then it really turns it into a bribery system."

A former varsity athlete in the national sport of Kingwood -- golf -- Lindeman is seemingly made to order for the precinct constituency. Most of the bus riders willingly pause to shake his hand and accept a pamphlet and mimeographed list of questions skewering Eversole. A sample: "Which politician has increased his administrative staff from eight to 27 during his first six months in office, costing taxpayers over $2.5 million dollars since 1991?" The choices offered are archliberals Ted Kennedy and Tom Foley, and, the correct answer, Jerry Eversole.

The questionnaire, by likening Eversole to liberal Democrats, is a tacit acknowledgment of the candidate's problem. With his good looks and law-and-order background, Jim Lindeman has only one major vulnerability, but it may be insurmountable. He's a Democrat, albeit a moderate one, running in a very conservative area. "If anybody can do it, it's Jim," says his wife Linda, a probate lawyer. But can any Democrat do it in Precinct 4? She laughs. "We'll see, won't we?"

"Sometimes I wake up and think, 'This is a race I can't lose,'" exclaims Lindeman, a Christian Scientist who epitomizes the power of positive thinking. The only reason that statement doesn't qualify him for an immediate political shock therapy session is the nature of his opponent. In his first term as commissioner, Clint Eastwood look-alike Eversole has compiled a record only outgoing and out-of-pocket U.S. Representative Craig Washington might seek to emulate. The former Humble Chamber of Commerce head rocketed to political prominence after longtime Democratic Commissioner E.A. "Squatty" Lyons retired, opening the seat to a fight between Eversole and City Councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley.

Eversole proved to be the right man in the right place in the right party. He became a willing pawn of soon-to-be-Mayor Bob Lanier in his rail wars against Mayor Kathy Whitmire, and by extension, rail supporter Tinsley. Lanier, County Judge Jon Lindsay and Texas Senator Phil Gramm all pitched in to boost Eversole to victory. Once in office, he quickly established himself as the court's resident dim bulb, when he was present and flickering at all. A Lindsay aide once cracked that the judge's main task at the court sessions over the last four years was to keep Eversole awake. After making a campaign promise to amend the county budget to add more law enforcement officers in his precinct, Eversole missed the vote to make a golfing date, a recreational preference that soon earned him the tag "missing linkster."

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